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PR and BS

I recently watched a doco about the infamous Monty Python comedy team and they showed a great clip from “The Life of Brian” where Brian is “preaching” (aka begging the crowd to leave him alone) and was telling the people that they were all unique. In unison they all shouted “YES!” except for one old fellow who said “I’m not”. Which I find very funny. Maybe you need to have seen it or appreciate British humor, but there’s such a sweet irony in that little vignette.

It’s amazing how “crowd control” or the use of PR (public relations, aka propaganda) can be used to produce a strong pressure to conform in a church situation. I used to employ it all the time, but I hated it. I did it for the “right” reasons, but in hindsight, the means didn’t justify the ends.

I’ve wanted to write about this, but needed the time to think it through. I saw a status update some time ago on the Facebook wall of a young pastor who was re-posting something that he attributed to a tweet from Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church in Australia. I haven’t checked his source, so it’s just hearsay, but it essentially said this; “Opinions don’t build the house, wisdom builds the house”. Instantly I was piqued at this comment, because I knew where it was coming from but didn’t have the organized ideas to express why I could smell a rat.

But after going to church on Sunday, I’ve organized my thoughts. It’s about producing conformity – we sell it as unity, but it’s no more than a strategy used by pastors for crowd control, and to apply pressure to a group of people to behave and think in certain ways that will ultimately help you achieve your goals. The motives were pure, the method’s weren’t.

You see, the moment you say “opinions don’t build the house, wisdom does”, it enables you to write off anything that is contradictory to your paradigm, philosophy, strategy, vision, values, and culture as an “opinion” and label anything that reinforces your modus operandi as “wisdom”. It’s really clever. You pump this stuff out subversively and within a few minutes you’ll have the majority censoring the minority with “wisdom” versus “opinion” judgments. Non conformists after all and viewed darkly as threats to “unity” without which God will not command the blessing.

The reason I was able to organize my thoughts was because of going to church on Sunday. The senior pastor who replaced me was relating how exciting his week was in the preamble before the giving and mentioned that someone had come up and said they wanted to give a thousand dollars to the church. Another had approached him and asked where they could serve in the church. He attributed these conversations to the work of the Holy Spirit and summarized by saying that if the Holy Spirit is moving in your life, you’ll get involved. I have no problem with this… except that if you look through this prism the other way, you end up with the idea that if you’re not involved, the Holy Spirit is not moving in your life.

I used to drop these kinds of statements in all the time. It was a way of communicating to people very subtly and cleverly a kind of group-think that reinforced certain ideas and behaviors designed to achieve some ulterior purpose.

But if it was for freedom that Christ has set us free, maybe we shouldn’t let ourselves be enslaved by PR, or worse propaganda, or even worse… BS.


4 Responses

  1. Thanks for this post.

    I’ve written about Brian’s dichotomous use of language on my own blog, and was planning to analyze some of his one-liners myself at some point.

    You’ve articulated the underlying motives of his rhetorical nonsense beautifully!


    • Hey TT, I’ve met Brian and he actually does have a lot of wisdom. However I will say, some of the stuff that comes from pulpits far and wide, even though “true” (such as opinion vs wisdom building God’s house), have the effect of enforcing conformity and minimizing independant free thinking. Another example is saying “If you hear anyone speak negatively, tell them that God always speaks LIFE, and that the power of life and death is in the tongue”. That way, if anyone says anything even constructively critical about the pastor, the church, or the vision, everyone jumps all over them like a rash and shuts them down.

  2. I agree, the issue is not intent – the issue is thinking!
    Until we honour thinkers as much as we honour doers the problem will continue to exist! I’m not attempting to absolve those who espouse simplistic ‘theologies’ of leasership – rather recognise that more often than not we are a product of our culture.

    • So true Reddirt. I don’t think thinkers get a very good run. Doers are exalted. Thinkers tend to be scorned as unproductive. But unless we actually think about what we’re doing, we can often end up doing fairly mindless things in church.

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